Channel Orange, by Frank Ocean
Suggested by Liberty Dent
Reviewed by Ed Ross
In thinking about stepping in to help out with another guest review for this fabulous project, I was adamant that whatever the album I was given, and whatever my personal thoughts, I would avoid scoring it a 6/10. I’ve not checked the distribution of scores to date, but I wouldn’t be surprised if 6/10 was the most frequent score. For me, it’s a nod to finding and acknowledging the worth in a given album (likely someone’s favourite no less) without it necessarily being your cup of tea.
Music is so subjective that clearly a low score could imply I don’t get it, and as we all know there’s no greater crime than being accused of not having an eclectic music taste.
I couldn’t say I knew a Frank Ocean song before listening to this album, though my guess that he was an R&B artist proved correct. Truth be told, I wouldn’t say I’d listened to a whole lot of R&B in the last decade. For me, the music in the charts isn’t a patch on what I’d see as the golden age of R&B at the turn of this century, where every collab Ashanti did was straight fire, and almost everything in the charts was a certified club banger.
Channel Orange starts with four soulful but quite ambient songs, combined with an interlude track or two, that struggle to keep my attention on first listen. I’m more on the Hip Hop rather than Soul end of the R&B spectrum, and I’m already wondering if this album is going to wash over me. Thankfully, Sweet Life appears, upping both the tempo and funk, and has a Miseducation of Lauryn Hill vibe.
Super Rich Kids starts with some spoken word over pointed keys, reminding me of a more measured, almost sedate, Kanye. The album’s lyrics drift between the dark and the hopeless – Crack Rock with its talk of ‘smoking stones in abandoned homes’ is certainly more sympathising than glamourising.
Hip hop features more prominently on both Monk and Pink Matter, which includes the distinctive vocals of Andre 3000 as a funky guitar twangs away. There’s a few more songs that largely drift over me but are pleasant enough, such as Pilot Home, many of which would feel at home in the background between sets at a Jazz Bar.
Pyramids is my pick on this album – a nine-minute magnum opus that smoothly builds until about five minutes in. Then the electro funky bass comes out, channelling strong Prince vibes in lyrics, sound and delivery as Mr Ocean describes another night of what I can only surmise is well paid but soul-destroying work for Cleopatra at the ‘Pyramids’.
Hip hop, soul, electro, bass, funk, ambience, there is a lot in here, and the real triumph of this album is the seemingly effortless breadth of styles on display. It’s only natural that I’ll be drawn to certain sections more than others. I think this album would be perfect whilst chatting with friends, and I also think it lends itself to repeated listens where each song’s nuggets will be more inclined to stick in the memory and make this album more worthy of a seven or more.
But for now, I’ll give it 6/10.
[Craig’s Review – I reviewed Frank’s follow up to this album, 2016’s Blonde, all the way back as Album 2. I thought it sparse, almost incomplete in places, and it came away with a 4/10. That was back in this project’s Wild West phase, but despite the album’s critical acclaim, I stand by my assessment. Channel Orange? Well, it’s better, I guess, but not by leaps and bounds. I appreciate the fact that this album is much more “finished and complete” than the rambling ambience of Blonde, and that the songs on it are much more cohesive chunks of separate music, and I liked Ed’s standout Pyramids and my own standout Pink Matter. But although I can praise the album for being songs, I still wasn’t edified by the actual songs themselves. I simply don’t gel with Frank’s delivery, I’m afraid. It’s all a bit odd. Originally, I’d planned to give this 5/10, but Ed makes some nice points, and given the conceit of his review I can hardly award anything other than 6/10. … F**k.]